07 Mar Improve Your Sleep, Improve You
Sleep is vital to our mental and physical health. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep will make you more regulated, less emotional and healthier. The problem is that many of us have habits that negatively impact our sleep cycles. These habits can be hard to break.
When our bodies are deprived of quality sleep, we are more emotional, less focused and more likely to give into impulsive urges. Poor sleep is linked to physical and mental health problems such as a weakened immune system, anxiety and depression. Late nights and disrupted sleep leads to more intrusive thoughts and worries. In fact, approximately 40% of people that suffer from depression also have insomnia or suffer from sleep deprivation.
10 Sleep Habits to Try Tonight
The following behavioral techniques can help people who struggle with sleep disturbances:
- Adopt a Mindfulness Practice. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that mindfulness plays an important role in reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout the day. In a study, researchers from the University of Southern California found that adults who used mindful meditation during the day ended up sleeping better than those who just practiced sleep hygiene techniques.
- Avoid overstimulation three hours prior to bedtime. This includes, but is not limited to, intense exercise, getting on the phone with someone who frustrates you or watching something on TV that is intense or triggering. They all can overstimulate your brain. Exercise during the day, however, helps promote restful sleep at night and watching those murder mysteries are better when the sun is out.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends. Set a time to get up in the morning that allows for you to eat breakfast and get ready for the day without rushing. Waking up early and winding down when its dark mimic the body’s natural day/night cycle. Even if you’ve always been a “night owl” consider this: your body needs darkness and daylight to regulate melatonin (the sleep hormone). Therefore waking up early and going to bed after the sun goes down (not when it comes up) helps regulate your mood, too.
- Make it a habit to wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. A warm bath with Epsom salts or bubble bath, reading by a dim light or listening to calming music can also help your brain ease into a relaxed state.
- Don’t use technology to fall asleep. The blue light that is emitted through your phone or computer actually inhibits melatonin production. This means you aren’t producing the hormone that is supposed to help you sleep. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. Avoid blue light (computer, cellphone and television at least an hour before bed as it stimulates dopamine too). Put your phone on silent (not vibrate) and in the other room.
- Avoid chocolate, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and stimulants in the evening. Alcohol, especially, adversely impacts sleep. It produces dopamine, an excitatory neurotransmitter, which stimulates your brain. Although you may find that you fall asleep quickly, any of these stimulants may cause you to wake up often throughout the night, which disrupts your sleep cycle and makes it hard to function the next day.
- Avoid consuming large meals at least two hours prior to bedtime. Your digestive system is activated and it takes energy to move the food through your body. This is stimulating. If you need a nighttime snack consider caffeine free tea, a light protein filled snack or moving your dinner to a bit later in the evening.
- Drink more water throughout the day, but not before bedtime. Dehydration, as well as over-hydration, prior to bedtime will increase visits to the bathroom throughout the night. When you drink water throughout the day it helps flush toxins from your brain and body.
- Assess your sleep environment. Be sure that the bed and pillows are comfortable and that the room temperature isn’t too warm. Research shows that a colder room can help your body fall, and stay, asleep.
- Reward yourself for the effort. When changing a bad habit we want to reward the progress. So, if you wake up on time, give yourself a pat on the back. If you go all week without watching TV or make it to bed within a reasonable hour, reward yourself with new pillow cases or an essential oil. Do something to remind your brain and body that you are trying the best you can to adjust your sleep cycle.
Sleep is one of the most important things we do for ourselves. It reinvigorates us and slows us down so we are ready to face the next day. If you spend some time to work on improving your sleep habits, you will see the benefit on your day-to-day activites.